Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Experience with Inuit Soapstone Carvings

        One of the more interesting experiences that I bumbled into in my life was to be in a position to buy soapstone carvings from Inuit carvers. As I've said before I spent five years in the Arctic. It was an experience that was a major influence in my life .

       In one remote settlement I was teacher, school principal and local administrator for the Canadian government. One of the jobs as administrator was to buy soapstone carvings from Inuit carvers. A program had been established before I arrived and I just carried on. I had a single signature bank account from the government which allowed me $1000.00 per month to buy carvings. Single signature because there was nobody else to sign besides my wife.

      Each week day I had an hour after school where locals could come to see me about Govt. business. Each day people would bring carvings. Now I had a crash course from the previous administrator on how to "evaluate" carvings. I looked at such basic things as size, finish, detail, shape and artistic expression. I was quite the judge! In the late 1960's most carvings were in the $12.00 to 16.00 range. Little seals and birds which were numerous and were about two bucks.  So you see the producer of the carving received very little as you are familiar with retail prices in stores.

      Some carvers had some artistic talent as they could look at a piece of stone and see something in the stone. Others tried to create something that was representative of some aspect of their cultural background. But many carvers just worked hard to produce something which they could sell to get some cash. When I arrived there was a pile of stone in front of each house. This stone had been brought in by ship and had come from a nickel mine at Sudbury Ontario. There was local stone but it was of rougher quality. It was harder and not easy to work with. I had one stone mining project while I was there where men went out for a week and by hand mined local soapstone. Tough work!

      So most of the project was basically a handcraft production. It was meant to give the people some opportunity to earn some money. As I said before some of these people had artistic talent.
     Much of what I learned was taught to me by the carvers. They were somewhat competitive. They didn't like to see someone play tricks on me. To polish the stone and make it shiny some people rubbed it with lard. I was told how to watch for this. You could smell it. Others polished with silver paper that was in cigarette packages at the time. They were quite interested to watch as I bought the carvings as I think they maybe had side bets with each other as to how much would be paid for each carving. Keep in mind these people did not speak English. I had an interpreter too help me.

     At the end of the year I had a small warehouse of carvings which I had to wrap and box up to be ready to load on the ship and send to Ottawa.

     I got to know each carver very well and appreciated the effort they had to expend to make a carving. I once tried to carve a little seal, but I gave up. So you can see that with the intensity of this experience I was deeply influenced in several ways.

    I did not buy very many carvings for myself. I have regretted not buying more. I  did buy carvings to give to my family for Christmas. I'm always surprised when I visit relatives and see a carving I sent them . It's like meeting an old friend after a long absence. When my step Mom and Dad died they gave me back the carving I gave them. I was really pleased to get the carving back.

      This carving was done by Ningiuk. He was a hard worker and wanted to support his family. However , all his carvings were mostly the same.

     Masiu  carved this piece. He was more artistic and had great skill. However , he didn't produce many pieces. He was an excellent hunter so spent much of his time hunting seals. His wife helped him in the finishing of a carving.

     This carving was different than many pieces produced and showed great skill in using the piece of stone.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

All Old Guys Should Cross Country Ski

       Okay, here we go again! Another old guys should post. Yes, all old guys and girls should cross country ski if they have an interest and are able.
      Now just how old?" you ask. I have seen ninety year olds skiing up high in the Kananaskis. So they were able to ski up and also get down. These people were amazing. They just kept going. They had their hearing aids turned off so you couldn't talk to them.

      I started cross country skiing in 1970. Some years I've skied a lot and others very little. It depends on the snow cover we have. Some years we just don't get enough snow. I ski on groomed trails. In Red Deer we have two areas with groomed trails which gives us quite a few kms of trails. There are some interesting hills as both areas have some river escarpement.

    Tours with a group are very pleasant. We usually go to a mountain area and again ski groomed trails where terrain can be challenging. Going up takes great effort and coming down requires great skill as you are on a narrow trail between trees. You don't won't to wipe out.  Sometimes you are above the tree line so just deep snow to land in if you loose control. We can rent accommodations at a reasonable price in the middle of the week. One lodge is for handicapped people. Seniors are second in line if the handicapped groups are not booked.So great times on the trails and great evenings.

     Sometimes I just go out to the park behind my house and make my own trail. This way I can get ready and be on the trail in minutes. I can choose to go out when I have a few spare minutes. I can also go out in the evening. Don't worry about cold as your body produces lots of heat if you are able to put in the effort. After five minutes I never wear gloves as my hands are warmed up and stay warm.

     So I highly recommend cross country skiing as it gives a great work out and is pleasant on your own or in a group. You can ski until you're quite old if you keep your skills up and work on conditioning.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Enjoyable Laidback Christmas Day

         My Christmas day was very low key but pleasant and enjoyable. In a previous post I briefly described the changes my Christmas day celebrations had gone through. My 71st Christmas is a continuation of the changes. Slow and steady change. No hard and fast lifetime traditions for this boy.

       This year there was only Home Farm Girl and I here for Christmas. Our day was fairly close to a normal daily routine. The old guy got up promptly at 7:00AM and made breakfast. By the time Home Farm Girl made it out for breakfast I was close to finished the crossword puzzle. When Home Farm Girl appeared we wished each other Merry Christmas. A highlight was when our daughter and partner phoned from Chicago to wish us a Merry Christmas. A two hour pleasant chat took place and only ended when they had to get their act together to be ready for the arrival of their only guest ...the mother in law.Usual morning chores were done.

      After lunch dishes were done we decided that gifts should be opened before we forget. Now I have to warn you, Home Farm Girl has been streamlining gift giving and wrapping for quite some time. She got tired of wrapping gifts and more tired of supervising me wrapping gifts so she began wrapping boxes which were stored away to be used again next year. Take a gift and drop it in the box...done! Open a gift?...Open the box. No wrapping paper all over the place. Now gifts for some time have been another development. Home Farm Girl squirrels away things that we buy on a normal basis. Of course , I'm easily fooled and forget what we bought. So what I find in the boxes are socks, slippers, shirts and what ever else that was bought throughout the year. Big surprise for me and low stress all around.

      So after this mini gift opening preparation for the Christmas dinner begins. Our dinners have been cut down for years. No more aspic, five cup salad Christmas pudding, fruit cake and shortbread. We're  down to the basics. This year we decided to have duck with orange sauce. It was super. The pecan pie from the store finished things off nicely
     So we celebrated with a minimum of stress and enjoyed life.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice: Good times are ahead

       People look forward to the winter solstice. People count the days until winter solstice occurs because it means that things will turn around...the sun will shine for longer each day.

      For thousands of years man has observed the winter solstice. They may not have been too exact as the the correct date and various societies may not have agreed when the solstice exactly occurred. The solstice meant new life or rebirth. In many places it also meant the start of the really severe winter weather. 

     We have identified a serious problem that some people experience when the days grow shorter. It's called seasonal affective disorder or SAD. Some people respond to treatment with light. Others require drug therapy, but many just tough it out and feel miserable. Once the solstice occurs they gradually feel better.

     Since I was raised on the bald prairie I saw sunsets and sunrises as the sun appearing or disappearing above or below the horizon. I was keenly aware  of the amount of daylight we received. People in the past were agriculturists or hunter gatherers and lived much of their time outdoors. They observed the changes and organized their activities according to the amount of daylight received.

    I spent a total of five years in the Arctic. At this time of year the sun did not rise above the horizon. We had beautiful twilight for two to four hours a day. On the Mackenzie Delta the sun did not rise from about Dec. 3 to Jan. 8. We always celebrated in some way when the sun came back up over the horizon. The Inuit and aboriginals usually had customs which involved visiting and feasting during the dark time. It was difficult to travel with limited light and trapping was a challenge because the animals were less active.

     So today I feel that it is a milestone. I can look forward to nicer times as there will be longer daylight and some warmer times. I just feel more cheerful. I hope you feel cheerful and happy as well.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blue Christmas: Not all Christmas celebration is bright and happy

       For some people the Christmas season can bring sadness and in some cases great sadness. This phenomenon has always been recognized. Recently more is being done to recognize the situation and  deal with it in a formal public way.

      For some people this time of year brings stress and with that stress a degree of sadness. There is a tremendous hype related to Christmas. We have various gatherings to celebrate and enjoy the season. Some people may have difficulties financially because of obligations they feel they have to make. With all the celebrating going on it is more difficult to cope when one is really sad.

     Some people have lost a very significant person in their life and when the Christmas season arrives they are brutally reminded of their loss. In my previous post I told how Mike had dropped in and we talked about his wife and what they would be doing if she was still here. Mike is missing Eileen terribly at this time of year. This is the second Christmas for another friend whose husband died in July of 2009. Christmas is a sad time as she is reminded again of her loss.

     Some churches now have a Blue Christmas service for those who celebrate in a religious way. It helps when people with common situations can come together and formally observe their loss. The rest of us have to be mindful of those who have experienced losses recently and speak about the person who has died.

    Other people are advised to try to think not so much of themselves but concentrate on other activities. This is extremely difficult to do but it will work as if one takes the self out of the situation they may be able to concentrate on the joy involved in the season.

    One of my fellow bloggers has shared the story that they do not celebrate Christmas. The lack of celebration allows one member of the family to cope and not suffer severe depression. They are much happier because of the change.

    The song " I'm having a blue Christmas without You" certainly expresses the feeling that people can be sad at this time of year. I like Elvis's version best. I can't find when the song was originally written, but many people have recorded a version.

     I have never recognized a blue Christmas in myself, but I think some seasons have been less happier than others.

    So to those who are down at this time of year, there are people who are aware of your pain and wish that things could be better. Let me know if you have had a blue Christmas and what can be done to help a person during this season.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Food

        Last evening my friend Mike dropped in for a visit. Mike lost his wife in May and we got talking about the food they prepared for Christmas. He mentioned how they worked together to make lifte. I had never heard of lifte and was too embarrassed to ask him what it was. I went to wikipedia this morning to check. So lifte is a Norwegian flat bread. There are several different recipes for it and it is made by several ethnic groups. The preparation and baking of this food is some what involved. Eileen prepared the batter and did the rolling and Mike did the cooking. A special flat type of skillet is used for the cooking. In the old days of wood cook stoves the batter was cooked directly on the stove surface. I have never eaten lifte, but now I'm looking forward to trying some.

      When I went to highschool 75% of my classmates were Mennonite. Mennonites make something which is special called pfeffernusse which were roughly called pepper nuts in English. . It's a small ball shaped cookie which has ginger, cinnamon, cardamon and pepper.  All the kids would bring pepper nuts to school and trade them. Each of their mothers had a little different recipe so that was the reason for exchanging. They were very kind and supplied me with these treats. I've never forgotten how they shared this special Christmas treat with me.

     One seventh grade boy I taught raved about "holy bolley" . I'm not sure how it's spelled and he didn't know either. I also tried to search on the net for this so obviously my spelling isn't even close. He described the goody which he made with his grandpa. I'm sure that for this boy the enjoyment was from working with grandpa to make the special Christmas goody that they shared with family and friends. 

     A grade seven girl I taught was a very able baker. At Christmas time she would have a little bag of baked goods that she would give to each of her teachers. I will never forget the look in her eyes as she would give these bags of Christmas baking to her teachers. She truly experienced the wonderful feeling of giving. For the next two years I was remembered at Christmas with wonderful treats this girl baked and gave to us.

     Now I know that there must be thousands of Christmas cook books. Ethnic communities that celebrate Christmas have their special recipes. Any Granny who celebrates Christmas probably has a thousand good recipes in her head. One of the ways we celebrate Christmas is through food we share with one another.

    Now if my daughter was in on this topic she would go into great historical detail as to the origins of each food and the symbolic meaning. There's so much more than just the eating of good food.

    I hope you are able to enjoy the good Christmas food and also partake in the meaning of sharing these seasonal  foods.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Changing Christmas Celebrations

        I have more or less celebrated 70 Christmas's! The 71st is coming right up.

        When I say Christmas celebration I mean the activities which take place on the 25th.

        Let's back way up to before my first Christmas. My mother lived in her parents home until she married my Dad. She was used to her mother's English influenced Christmas day activities. My Dad had wandered during the depression and probably spent the day in a variety of ways. Christmas day seemed to have not been a big issue with Dad except for the Christmas goose. I'm quite sure that my mother went back the 800km to her mother's for the first few Christmas's. Fortunately my Mom's cousin lived on the neighboring farm and a tradition grew where they alternated hosting the Christmas day activities.

       To be honest I don't remember Christmas until I would have been about five. Santa Claus was a big issue and opening presents Christmas morning was an exciting event. We received gifts from our maternal grandparents and aunts and uncles. Many times we received used items but we were still very excited about the gifts we received. I remember getting a pocket watch. Grandpa had attached some kind of leather strap and the watch was kept in  my pocket. The watch didn't work but I could turn the hands. I was very proud of this watch.

     When we spent the day with cousin's we had the feast at noon. This fitted farmers who travelled with horses and sleigh. We had a tremendous meal. Turkey, ham, potatoes, gravy , vegetables, stuffing, mince pie, and Christmas pudding. The afternoon was spent playing games or if the weather was nice we played outside in the snow. For the evening meal we had cold cuts from the left over of the noon meal. We continued fun stuff during the evening. About midnight another hearty lunch was had. There were lots of Christmas baking items to sample. It was really a day of great eats.

    My paternal grandparents lived in the local village. Their house did not have electricity , water or sewage. We would take a gift into them a week or two before Christmas. Mom had usually knitted a pair of mitts or socks for Grandpa. As soon as we gave the gift to Grandpa he would open it. He was pleased to receive something and thanked us. As little kids we were horrified that he didn't wait to open his gift until Christmas.

     Once I finished high school and left home I came back home for Christmas, but tended to spend much of the day with some of my buddies. I then went to the Arctic and this was the first Christmas I spent away from home. Fortunately I was with a number of other single people and we made a very nice Christmas dinner for ourselves. The Christmas morning I spent going around and visiting couples who had children.

     Then I married. The first couple of Christmas's we went to my parents . The menu was still the same but without the cousins. Now there were my brother's and there little children.

     When my children were born we lived 700km away from my parents. We went there for Christmas twice,. My Mother died and after that we spent Christmas on our own. My wife's English influence took over so the menu changed a bit but was still top notch.

     My children were the excited little beaners who loved early morning gift opening. My children became teenagers and spent most of the day with friends . The day consisted of many visits with the kids and their friends.

     Both my kids left home. My son spent a couple of Christmas 's with us and then made his Christmas on his own. My daughter spent most Christmas's with us and we also at her place. Now my daughter is 2000km away. She's invited us for Christmas but we decided not to go. We will celebrate alone but it's not our first Christmas by ourselves. In the Arctic we spent Christmas alone and thoroughly enjoyed the season and day.

    I think if my grandchildren came with gifts today I might be tempted to open them on the spot. I guess things have come full circle.

    So my 71 Christmas's have been all treasured. They have changed gradually because of my change in life. They have also changed because we as a society have changed.

    I also realize that there are many ways that families celebrate the day. The celebration is influenced by our family and the origin of that family.

     What are your traditions of celebration? I hope all your Christmas days have been happy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Really Cool Volunteer Position

       Last night I volunteered at the Red  Deer College Arts Center for front of house duties. A blogger commented that this sounded like a cool volunteer position as I had described a concert held there last night. I began thinking about this and yes it's a great fun position.

      The Red Deer College Arts Center was built about twenty years ago to function as a teaching facility for the Red Deer College theatre program and as a community theatre. It was a state of the art design and had all the bells and whistles. A very large entry was constructed and this was well appointed with a variety of excellent art. This entry also had room for the coat check and food and beverage service. In the house there are almost 550 seats. The front rows of seats can be removed so that it leaves room for an orchestra and orchrestra pit.  The stage is well equipped so that it can be adapted for many types of presentations. There is a tower over part of the stage so that various parts of sets can be dropped into place and then pulled up for storage. Behind the stage is a costume producing room with the necessary sewing equipment.

     About half of the productions are done by college classes both musical and theatre. Out of town performers can book the theatre. The local symphony plays all their performances in the arts center.

    So I am able to volunteer in a superb facility with pretty interesting performances. You'll never be bored as there is such a wide variety of shows you can watch . We don't see all performances, but you certainly see enough to be well satisfied. This position is a great balance for some of the heavier volunteer Since our community is about 100 000, there are a percentage of patrons that I know so it is an excellent time to meet and greet neighbors  and acquaintances.

    Front of house jobs are usher, ticket taker, program "hander outer", coat check and bar and food service. We are rotated so that we do a variety of jobs.

     When I stop and think about it, it really is a cool place to volunteer

Friday, December 10, 2010

Today's School Christmas Concert

        Last evening I was occupied by one of my volunteer activities...front of house duty for the local Arts Center. Being December many school Christmas concerts are held in this fine facility. So I thought back to my previous post of the Christmas concerts put on in days gone by.

        Last night one of the local high schools put on their concert.The concert was made up of a offering of their choral groups and various bands.

         First, they had the choral group and jazz choir perform.

         Next, the grade nine band and jazz band strutted their stuff.

      After the intermission the heavies took the stage...the symphonic winds band. A dance group performed one number with the band. For a finale the band and choral groups performed together. The house was packed with admiring parents and excited students were pacing around the building. Both groups had a right to be excited and proud. It even infected me!

       These kids put on a fine performance of seasonal  and non seasonal music. The students have been in a band program for three years before they hit high school so they have experience to work with. The musicianship is of high quality. Music teachers are much more highly qualified as they are very active in professional development. A very active parents group assists the music program.

     Of course along with the hype there were all kinds of draws made after people laid down their cash for "winning tickets."

      So hats off to all the enthusiastic young performers, teachers and parents. You are doing a fine job.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Old Time Christmas Concerts in One Room Country Schools

        Yes, I am old enough to have been in a Christmas concert in a one room country school. In fact, I performed in eight Christmas concerts.

       One of my fellow bloggers has touched on these concerts. I like reading local histories. The local history from my area is full of comments about school Christmas concerts. People have many reasons for looking back at these performances with nostalgia. For many kids the evening was extremely exciting. Others took great pleasure in their performances. Others liked the activity of preparing for the concert. Some teachers were masters in producing an excellent concert and getting amazing performances from young kids. Many teachable moments occurred during the preparation for these concerts.  Kids learned music, set design, dance, acting and a ton of self discipline. Kids gained confidence from performing in front of an audience. Kids received positive feedback. As a result of the good old school concert much learning and growth took place. The teacher probably aged prematurely.

       My memories of school Christmas concerts is pretty sparse. I remember being in a small "drill " with my brother when we were in grade one and two. We were in elf costumes that were made from construction paper. Brown paper shoes and green hats. When our spot was on the concert we went out and the music played. During the performance one of us stepped on a thumb tack. We stopped. One little fellow raised his foot and the other took out the tack and then we continued. The piano player had to adjust and play a few more bars for us to complete our routine. Our parents to their deaths always remembered and laughed about our performance. Parents were always excited and proud of their childrens' performance.

     Other things I remember is that regular classes ceased during the three or four weeks of preparation. Sometimes it was boring as the teacher worked with other kids practising their parts. Sometimes I got into trouble while having nothing to keep me occupied.

    Now I was also old enough to teach in a one room country school. I went out to teach in an isolated school before I had my nineteenth birthday. There were ten students in this school. I knew that parents expected the teacher to put on a Christmas concert. I was petrified as had not a clue what to do and had little talent in music and performance. The school board was wise and extremely thoughtful. They came to me well before concert time and said let's not have a concert. We would rather have the kids stick to the curriculum. Whew!!! They decided to have a little celebration the last afternoon of school. They brought lots of goodies and made a big boiler of coffee. All parents and preschool children attended as well as some people in the district who did not have children in the school. The kids exchanged gifts and were given gifts from the school board. Everybody had a great time and went home happy. It would have been very difficult to put on a concert as out of the ten kids three of them were grade one. The teacher in Louisville school in 1958-59(me) learned more than any student that year. These people also gave me so much support that I decided to return to university and get a teaching degree.

     So my Christmas concert experience was from two points of view.  I know that I enjoyed both sides of the fence and learned from my experience. I also have some very pleasant memories to look back on.

     Please feel free to tell me about your Christmas concert experiences. I'd love to hear about them.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I Hear Christmas Music

       Yesterday it hit me that some Christmas music was being played. I was listening to Vinyl Cafe on CBC when Stuart McLean came on and talked about the Huron Carol which is a favorite of his and one he always plays  on his show. He also played Jingle Bell Rock and then it hit me Christmas Music!!!!

     I never listen to commercial radio so Christmas music is not in my face. I had been the grocery store  a few days ago and there was seasonal music playing. Christmas music was also playing at a volunteer party I attended.

     I listen to CKUA which is a listener sponsored commercials. They specialize in playing a wide variety of music and have information to go along with it. Tonight I was listening to "Roy's Record Room" This guy plays music from 78's and gives very interesting background on the music and performers. Tonight he gave great detail about the well known "Baby It's Cold Outside." Many performers have recorded this tune. It was first written as a party tune for one party. Others picked it up and sang it. Tonight Roy played two versions buy Homer and Jethro with June Carter...was very enjoyable.

     I enjoy Christmas music as well as many other types of music. I have Christmas tapes but guess what? I don't have a tape deck in the house that works any more. I also have LPs and the same working turntable. I'm pretty sure Santa is bringing me an ipod so I'll look for Christmas music.

    I can't really say that I have one favorite piece of Christmas music as I like such a wide variety. I hope that you will take pleasure in listening to what ever Christmas music that you like. Let me know what you like listening to. I could stand learning about some music I've not heard before. And by the way check out CKUA . It's on the net

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Surprise on me:Christmas is Coming!

        Last week I noticed that two blogs I follow had a Christmas topic. One a reminisce about childhood Christmas expectations and activities and a second describing a painting done of the Mother and Christ child. I'm sure that if I looked for blogs about Christmas I would find lots. So, not too worry I don't get excited about Christmas. Home Farm Girl agrees with that assessment.

        Last night I attended a small appreciation party for volunteers at a facility I volunteer for. The evening was great as volunteers got together for good food, visiting and outdoor fun. The volunteers are mostly seniors but they do make an effort to include handicapped people as well.

     The day before Home Farm Girl had dragged me to a free lunch at one of the malls. Free lunches and crowds are not my favorite, but since Home Farm Girl doesn't drive I had to attend.

     Then I started to think that a number of Christmas activities have sneaked up on me and I was not really aware of what was happening. I guess I was having so much fun I did not really think that December was upon us and Christmas activities were taking place whether I was in gear or not.

     Then I remembered that about Nov. 10 I put up my Christmas lights so that I wouldn't have to suffer in the cold. This too was at the urgent prodding of Home Farm Girl. Today I looked out to see my neighbor putting up his lights and it's minus 15 C(+2F). This afternoon all I had to do was set the timer and turn my lights on.

    Oh yes! I wrote a Christmas letter a couple of weeks ago so that Home Farm Girl could include it with her Christmas cards. I do all my greetings on email.

     So surprise on me. Christmas activities have been happening and I didn't know about it or(think about it.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December Days

A cold clear December voice
Calls for deep slumber

                                    Gloomy December
                   Invites us darkly to
                   Winter Solstice.

                                December beckons to
                                Final end of blackness
                                To start new light.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010



                           to all who celebrate this season.

From Hiawatha House